Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Random Thought on the Variation in Animal Behavior

I love nature shows, but I'm always alarmed at the confidence with which folks like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin approach dangerous animals. They consistently refer to the exhaustive body of research on these animals as evidence of what these critters will do from moment to moment. This seems odd to me, even though the fact Corwin and Irwin are still alive reasonably substantiates their credibility. What gets me is this: how is that human tendencies have so much variation but animals are fairly well predictable?

I mean, there are good people who adhere to social norms, but there are also bad people, even evil people, who have no regard for others. The behavior of these kinds of people cannot be even remotely predicted. Are there not equivalents in the animal kingdom? Are there not "bad seeds" who, far from doing what researchers expect, will jump at the opportunity to maul a supremely arrogant human? This thought grips me most when I see marine biologists swim with sharks. Wasn't the shark in Jaws one of these bad seeds? I know, it's just Hollywood, but still. I saw a show a couple of nights ago where a guy was swimming with no weapons and in no cage with a slew of bull sharks. He was obviously very comfortable - the crazy bastard. Why is it that the behavior of such dangerous animals can be predicted so consistently, yet humans are all over the map?

Maybe it's human culture that builds in so much variation in behavior. I don't know, but you can count on one thing - if I ever encounter a bunch of bull sharks, I'm exiting the water immediately.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

so your definition of "good" is "who adheres to social norms" and "evil" is "who has no regards for others". with that reasoning, why would animals (which shouldn't exclude us because we are animals also)that live in their natural wild environment have such rules? they rely on their natural instincts every moment of everyday of their lives. if a so-called arrogant human tries to approach a wild animal, don't you think that the crocodile (or lion or bear or shark etc.) "knows" that this intruder isn't going to be harmful? the only way a human could cause injury to a wild animal is with a weapon. wild animals are a weapon in and of themselves. if they sense anything hazardous, they'd be on that guy in a snap and tear off his arrogant human arms.
animals in the wild are at home. they eat, they shit, they reproduce, they sleep, they hunt to eat, ad infititum. that's their lives. they don't need to concern themselves with diversions and entertainment like humans do. they are what they are. and yes, hollywood does it's fair share of warping average people's ideas of wild animals. either they are given anthropomorpic qualities (like in disney films) or they make them out to be brainless yet crafty monsters (like the "killer" animal films) and when faced with a real live wild animal or even a squirrel or dog or cat, they really only have those two scenarios to work with. wild animals aren't anymore special than humans are, but they are treated like lesser beings because of ideas like adam being given dominion over all the lower animals. i think that we could learn a lot about how to behave from wild animals, like the caveman probably did and how the native cultures still do.

12/17/2004 05:41:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

I'm not placing any value on adhering to social norms beyond saying that those who do not are, by definition, defying the expectations of most members of society. I agree that animals don't have any need for our complex social rules. However, my point was just that it would seem that even the instinctive actions of animals would have at least enough variability to make guys like Jeff Corwin and Steve Irwin pause the next time they approach a dangerous animal. It's just a little curious to me.

12/18/2004 02:43:00 AM


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